They had their orders, they stopped for nothing. They were carrying a billion dollars, and such a sum of money cannot manifest either sympathy or curiosity; it has enough to do to take care of itself. The year was 1937, and Upton Sinclair had just completed a novel bearing the subtitle A Story of Ford-America.
Eighty-three years later, the market capitalisation of Amazon.com has exceeded one trillion dollars, while the value of the Ford Motor Company hovers around thirty billion. We have, it seems, entered the age of one-click America. Alec MacGillis’s Fulfillment is not another inside account or impassioned indictment of our most conspicuously dominant company. Rather, it is a beautifully wrought study of the America that falls within that company’s growing shadow. As MacGillis shows, Amazon’s sprawling network of delivery hubs, data centres, and corporate campuses epitomises a land where winner and loser cities and regions are drifting steadily apart, the civic fabric is unraveling, and work has become increasingly rudimentary and isolated. Ranging across the country, MacGillis tells the stories of those who’ve thrived and those who’ve struggled to thrive in this rapidly changing environment.
In Seattle, new office towers displace a historic black downtown neighbourhood, and the rise of housing costs and homelessness sparks a civic insurrection. In suburban Virginia, homeowners try to protect their neighbourhood from the environmental impact of a new data centre. Meanwhile, in El Paso, an office supply firm seeks to weather Amazon’s takeover of government procurement, and in rural Ohio, a regional department store chain endeavors to keep the lights on even as cardboard factories boom but do not pay a living wage.
In Baltimore, a once fabled steel plant is dismantled brick by brick, and an Amazon warehouse rises on its grounds. Fulfillment also shows how Amazon has become a force in Washington, D.C., ushering readers through a revolving door for lobbyists and government contractors and into CEO Jeff Bezos’s lavish Kalorama mansion. With empathy and breadth, MacGillis demonstrates the hidden human costs of the other inequality – not the growing gap between rich and poor but the gap between the country’s winning and losing regions.
The result is an intimate account of contemporary capitalism; its drive to innovate, its dark, pitiless magic; its remaking of America with every click.